A couple posts ago I posed these questions:
What do you want lay people to have as part of their store of scientific knowledge? What piece of scientific knowledge have you found especially useful, or would you like to have if you don’t already?
Among other things, my query prompted this response from commenter tbell1:
I’m usually just a lurker here on science blogs, but I have a pet peeve about the use of the terms ‘lay’ or ‘lay people’ in reference to nonprofessionals in science. Doesn’t it just stink of religion? Am I the only one who hates the term? Can we generate an alternative? ‘non-professional’ is a mouthful, but can’t we just say ‘people’ or ‘the public’ or educated citizens or something?
First, to tbell1, thanks for delurking!
And now, what do we do about this terminology? “Lay people” does seem to have a significant residual religious connotation, as if scientists were part of a priesthood with access to sacred secrets. That would make everyone else what exactly? The flock? Those who had not gotten the calling to partake of the mysteries? Intellectual children?
That’s not really what we’re shooting for here.
The obvious problem with identifying non-scientists as “people” or “the public” is that scientists are also people and members of the public. (They live among you!) Similarly, to call a non-scientist a “non-professional” may come across as dismissive of the actual professions in which many of these non-scientists participate.
My impulse here is to go for something like “non-expert” (or maybe “well-educated human being”, although that’s a mouthful, too). But y’all are pretty clever; what do you think a better term than “lay person” would be?
(Of course, if you think “lay person” is exactly the right term here, I invite your defense of it!)